State rep. candidate held female student responsible in sexual misconduct case
Jim Acklin of Ogden, who is running for the Illinois General Assembly, countered a former high school student’s sexual misconduct suit against the school district he once led by blaming her.
“Plaintiff was under a duty to use care and caution for her own safety and well being” while at St. Joseph-Ogden High School, lawyers for then-superintendent Acklin and the district school board argued in 2012.
They argued that the student, then a 15-year-old freshman, concealed facts from school officials and deceived them when they asked about her relationship with high school coach Jon Jamison.
They held her responsible for most or all of the negligence that harmed her.
Acklin and the district won the case in Champaign County Circuit Court in 2014, arguing that Jamison passionately kissed and caressed, but did not have sexual intercourse with the student.
"The dissimilarity between kissing and having some sort of oral contact with or penetration of the sex organs is self evident,” they argued.
Circuit Judge Jeffrey Ford agreed that under Illinois Code, “None of the alleged acts by the plaintiff fit the definitions of sexual conduct or sexual penetration.”
The school district settled the claims for $6,500.
Meanwhile, in a case involving another student, Jamison pled guilty to a charge of aggravated criminal sexual abuse of a victim between ages 13 and 18.
While the lawsuit brought by Jane Doe received widespread media attention when it was filed, the responses from Acklin and the school board did not. The Madison County Record reviewed the entire case file on Feb. 21 and 22.
Acklin currently seeks the Republican nomination for State Representative in the 102nd District, which includes Paris, Shelbyville, Sullivan and Tuscola.
According to a Champaign News-Gazette article on Jamison’s arrest in February 2012, Acklin once coached Jamison on the high school cross country team. In the Danville Commercial-News, an announcement of Jamison’s December 2005 wedding identified Acklin as a groomsman and his son, John Acklin, as ring bearer.
Jamison’s wife divorced him after his arrest.
The civil lawsuit
In May 2012, lawyers Thomas Bruno and Dennis Mickunas of Champaign sued the district and Acklin on behalf of “Jane Doe.”
"Jamison was incompetent, unfit, and dangerous for employment," they wrote.
They also named as defendants Chad Uphoff, St. Joseph-Ogden High School principal in 2006-07, and Brian Brooks, the school’s principal in 2007-08.
The suit claimed that Uphoff and Brooks investigated allegations by another girl’s parent, but didn’t report them as required by law to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).
Attorney Mike DeBartolo of LaGrange, who has represented school districts for 16 years, said that if credible evidence of abuse, neglect or sexual assault are presented to school officials those must be reported to the DCFS.
He said that while judgment calls are made in these situations, it is better to "err on the side of caution" when allegations are made, not only to protect interests of the school, but more importantly to protect the student.
"If they truly think it didn't happen or there was an ax to grind, you better be on solid ground," DeBartolo said.
He also said that because the record shows that Acklin had a personal relationship with Jamison, he should have recused him from making any determination about the credibility of Doe's accusations.
"He should have handed it off," he said.
According to Doe's attorneys, Acklin, Uphoff and Brooks concealed the allegations from students and parents.
In the suit, they wrote that Jamison flirted with Jane Doe, sent her suggestive messages and made suggestive calls, kissed her passionately, and rubbed her thigh. He was also accused of providing Doe with alcohol and that he drank with her more than once.
Brooks confronted Jane Doe, then age 15, and she “instinctively denied that anything inappropriate was going on," the suit alleged.
On the same day, Brooks and Acklin told Jamison they would dismiss him “if anything else came up.”
The suit alleged that Jamison told Jane Doe that he met with Brooks and Acklin, and that they needed to “cool things down for a while.”
Doe's lawyers wrote that from 2006 to 2010, he hugged and kissed female students, touched them suggestively, rubbed their thighs, and asked them to dance for him.
They named Jamison as a defendant but never pursued claims against him.
The school board retained attorney Jeffrey Taylor of Joliet, who moved to dismiss the suit.
“Defendants took all appropriate and responsible action, “ he wrote, charging that Jamison’s conduct was not reportable.
Bruno and Mickunas opposed the motion to dismiss, branding the investigations as “ham handed attempts to sweep allegations of Jamison’s wrongdoing under the rug.”
They wrote that Jane Doe was interrogated without counsel or parent.
Taylor replied that her interview was not extreme or outrageous.
"The conduct the defendants are alleged to have been aware of in this case simply did not constitute sexual exploitation," Taylor wrote.
Ford dismissed most of the suit but granted leave to amend the complaint.
A new complaint claimed severe bodily injury and emotional distress including fright, anguish, shock, guilt, nightmares, depression, loss of trust, inability to concentrate, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, headaches and stomachaches.
Bruno and Mickunas wrote that Jane Doe’s suffering would continue in relationships with teachers and administrators, and in intimate relationships.
They wrote that she required psychiatric and therapeutic treatment; that she was unable to continue her studies at a university; and that she denied some allegations to Uphoff but admitted that Jamison called her weekly, hugged her while they were alone at night on a bus, let her sit next to him while he drove the bus and let her wear his sunglasses.
They further wrote that Brooks summoned her to his office, where his tone was stern and his demeanor was accusatory.
"Do you know why you are here?” Brooks was alleged to have repeatedly asked. "There are rumors that you are behaving inappropriately with Coach Jamison."
They wrote that she felt intimidated and feared he would suspend or expel her.
"She just wanted Brooks’s interrogation to end," the suit stated.
Doe's lawyers wrote that she cried and he sent her back to class, where students asked her what happened.
They wrote that Brooks treated her like a perpetrator, bullied her, and “behaved in an insensitive, unkind and uncaring manner.”
Taylor answered that the state’s Tort Immunity Act immunizes government employees from liability for failure to supervise activity that amounted to “mere ordinary negligence.”
Taylor wrote that if the plaintiff was injured, her damages were a direct result of her own breach of duty to use care and caution for her own safety and well-being.
He wrote that she concealed from administrators the acts she identified in her complaint and that she provided false information to individuals at the district.
He also wrote that her acts and omissions were the sole cause of her injuries or that her negligence exceeded 50 percent of the total negligence in the case.
Bruno and Mickunas moved to amend the complaint again in 2013, in order to add counts and name another defendant.
Taylor opposed the motion, and he played a trump card.
"Importantly, information disclosed during this case established that plaintiff is currently 20 years of age and was over 19 years of age when her initial complaint was filed in this case, upon allegations of conduct that occurred when she was a minor," Taylor wrote.
He wrote that because she was 19 when she filed the complaint for conduct that occurred when she was a minor, a one-year limit in the immunity law had run out.
Mickunas replied that the limit on a childhood sexual abuse claim was 20 years.
Ford declared a new complaint untimely, opening a door for Acklin and the district to move for summary judgment against the old complaint.
"Plaintiff never had sexual intercourse with Jon Jamison," Taylor wrote. “None of the sexual acts alleged to have taken place by plaintiff included sexual penetration.”
Mickunas replied that childhood sexual abuse was not limited to acts spelled out in the criminal code.
At a hearing on Jan. 22, 2014, Mickunas said, “We have alleged that Jamison had engaged in passionate kissing with the plaintiff, rubbed her back centrally, rubbed her thighs centrally, stuck his tongue down her throat.”
"All these are touching a child under age 18 for the purpose of sexual gratification.”
Taylor responded, “Once the minor reaches the age of majority, they have one year to file suit against a governmental entity, no different from any other adult.”
Ford said, “If we have to start going beyond anus, breast, and sex organs, we’re going to have to find something similar... . All the facts show, as the court has noted, that this does not come in within the definition of sexual conduct under the criminal code.”
He granted summary judgment to all defendants but Jamison, saying that his defense was totally different from the defense of the others.
“If I recall correctly, Mr. Jamison may be incarcerated at this time," Ford said. "This matter may drag on for a number of years.”
Jane Doe appealed Ford’s decision and dismissed the appeal in July 2014.
The case has seen no action since, but the claims against Jamison remain.
The docket on his criminal case shows that he pleaded guilty to one of three charges and accepted four years on probation with a fine of $3,924.
Chief Judge Thomas Difanis has restricted public access to the entire file. On Feb. 26, he denied a request from the Madison Record to open the file.
Acklin's campaign has been contacted for comment, but he had not responded by press time.
May 1996 - Jon Jamison graduates from SJO HS
2001 - Jon Jamison starts work for SJO HS as a bus driver for sporting events.
Dec. 10, 2005 - James Acklin stands up in Jamison's wedding
July 31, 2007 - Acklin becomes superintendent for SJO district. He was previously the principal at a nearby elementary school.
Feb. 6, 2008 - Acklin is "made aware" of Jamison's behavior
Jan. 31, 2012 - Champaign County Sheriff receives information from "a local attorney" that Jamison "had been having inappropriate contact with several high school students." He also bought alcohol for them.
"We believe the first (Jamison) incidents occurred during 2002 or 2003 and the latest incident occurred in the fall of 2006," the sheriff reports.
Feb. 7, 2012 - Jamison turns himself in to the sheriff. The Champaign County State's Attorney files charges against him.
May 3, 2012 - Urbana attorney Tom Bruno files 19-count civil lawsuit for Jane Doe against Jon Jamison, James Acklin, the district board of education, former SJO principal Chad Uphoff and current SJO principal Brian Brooks.
It alleges misconduct between 2007 and 2010 -- including time when Acklin was superintendent.
Dec. 20, 2012 - Jamison pleads guilty and is sentenced to four years of probation. He is now registered as a sex offender.